‘Percy Jackson and the Olympians’ show vs movies: How do the depictions of the main characters compare to the books?

The “Percy Jackson and the Olympians” Disney+ series has received a much more positive reception than the film adaptations did, which are pretty much universally hated by fans of the books. While both make changes from the source material, the key to the series success, and the movie’s failure, may lie in the characterization of the main trio: Percy Jackson, Annabeth Chase and Grover Underwood.

Percy is played by Logan Lerman in the 2010 movie “Percy Jackson and The Lighting Thief”, and Percy’s portrayal is the most true to the books out of the trio in the movies. Whether book, movie or show, Percy Jackson is a mama’s boy. 

The movies preserve Percy’s general attitude, anger at his father and ability to cluelessly stumble his way, with a little luck and talent, to the top. The movie even keeps some of the book’s chaotic teen and preteen humor, with Percy repeating to himself, “I should be on medication” in a panic after seeing Mrs. Dodds in the museum. 

One of the main differences is in Percy’s humor. While in the books, Percy is known for his sass and, the Percy in the movie tends to have more direct insults and aggression, without the same wit, like he calls Smelly Gabe a “bald headed freak” to his face.

The show however, keeps the punch up humor the books are famous for. Percy, played by Walker Scobell, still has an attitude, but his jokes tend to be a little more clever and less direct.

Percy’s sarcasm is on full display when he selects Annabeth for his quest, saying “If the mission required someone to push me down a flight of stairs for it to succeed, you’d want someone who won’t hesitate when they do it”.  

Something the show changes, that the movies didn’t, is Percy’s grasp on the mythological world. In the movies, Percy spends the majority of the movie having almost no knowledge of the mythological world. However, the show makes the change to make Percy nerdier, and he knows more about the mythological world from stories his mom has told him throughout his childhood. 

Otherwise, the show nearly perfectly captures Percy’s personality, keeping the humor and loyalty to his loved ones that many original fans loved. 

Movie Grover Underwood, played by Brandon T. Jackson, is the first serious deviation from a book-accurate character description in the movie. In the books, Grover is a shy, nervous and weepy young satyr who loves nature. 

In the movie, Grover is an entirely different character. Grover transforms from a sweet and caring character, to a playboy womanizer and an affinity for gambling. In the movies, Grover is a lot more traditionally masculine, and more physically capable than the Grover in the books, who mostly fights by playing reed-pipes. 

The Grover in the movies lacks the unique character traits and heart that made him popular with fans of the books. Virtually the only thing that the movies did well was Grover’s unwavering loyalty to his friend, and his love of food.

The show does a much better job of portraying Grover Underwood, and when changes are made, they serve the story and format of a T.V. show. Grover, played by Aryan Simhadri, isn’t as nervous or weepy in the show as he is in the books, but he isn’t loud and extroverted like the movies. 

Grover still has the key parts of his character, his love for the god Pan and his gentle nature. Simhadri’s Grover is much funnier, with his “consensus song” bringing a moment of brevity and humor to the show in a way that still feels true to the character. The Grover in the show preserves the important aspects of Grover’s character and improves on them.

Perhaps the most egregious deviation from the source material is the movie’s portrayal of Annabeth Chase, played by Alexandra Daddario. The movie strips the character of nearly everything that makes Annabeth a compelling and complex character. 

The movie only seems to get two key factors right: Annabeth’s prowess on the battlefield, and her knowledge of the mythological world. In the movie, Annabeth is featured in multiple fight scenes, including battling with the hydra and the famous casino scene, both of which showcase her swordsmanship. 

True to the books, Annabeth is a fierce and well trained warrior. The movie also depicts Annabeth as the only one of the three having knowledge of Greek myths, where she explains the hydra and the Lotus Casino to Percy and Grover. 

Unfortunately, both of these classic Annabeth traits are undercut by how easily Percy beats her in the battle by the river, and by the fact that any mythological knowledge from Annabeth usually comes after the challenge, meaning it had little, if any, impact on the plot. 

Additionally, the movies fall into the trap of having the female love interest have no other traits than being an attractive supporting character for the male lead. Not only is Annabeth flirtatious, but she is overconfident and sometimes mean in a way that lacks the depth the books provide.

Annabeth has multiple scenes where she is smirking at Percy, sometimes in a flirtatious way, sometimes condescending, but mostly a weird mix of both. Annabeth says “I always win” only to be defeated by Percy, with no real training seconds later. Additionally, she is stripped of any relationships or ambitions not related to Percy. 

Her love of architecture and her complex relationship with Luke and her family are left out, essentially reducing her to an attractive plot device. 

Annabeth can be mean in the books, but not without cause, and usually she is more brash and abrasive than an outright bully. This is something the show captures perfectly. Annabeth, played by Leah Jeffries, can come across as overbearing or rude, whether it’s stalking Percy or shoving him in the water, but it is clear that Annabeth isn’t being mean for the sake of being mean. 

Everything she does is a direct byproduct of either her goals or upbringing. Her relationship with Luke, her issues with her father and her need to make her mother proud are all key aspects of her character that the show keeps in. 

While the show does not spend as much time on her love of architecture, Annabeth displays her love of architecture, and Athena, when she lists off the dimensions of the St. Louis Arch, and its features. 

While Annabeth does appear to lack the nearly encyclopedic knowledge of the Greek world she has in the books, her battle strategy and cleverness still shine through, both in her strategy to win capture the flag, and when she uses her invisibility cap to help defeat Medusa. 

While the movie still has Annabeth help defeat Medusa, her strategy of blindly driving a truck into a stone garden and hoping she hits Medusa and not Percy, seems less like a brilliant battle strategy and more like crossing your fingers and praying you don’t kill the wrong person. 

In the show, Annabeth’s skills with a sword and knife are also largely absent, aside from her throwing her knife at a fury. While Annabeth may not be the one providing the group with knowledge on Greek myths or taking down monsters just yet, Jeffrie’s Annabeth is still characterized by quick thinking and intellect.

The difference between the changes the show made and the movie, is that the character’s still feel like honest depictions of the original trio. 

Percy still has his humor and sass, Grover still cares deeply for his friends and nature, and Annabeth feels like she walked right off the page. In the movies, while Percy may be more accurate, Grover and Annabeth are unrecognizable as the characters Rick Riordan created. 

While the show may have made changes, the spirit of characters that drew fans to the series in the first place is still there, making it a more enjoyable watch for fans.

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